Old Gyms vs. New Arenas

February 25, 2014

Over the past few weeks I have had a chance to visit a couple of new college basketball arenas and they are very beautiful. I attended a reunion of former West Georgia basketball players a few weeks and got my first look at West Georgia’s new basketball facility. It is a really nice place! It is as good as many major college arenas, even though it may not seat quite as many fans. It is a great place to watch a game and is surely a big improvement from the old gym that we played in when I played for West Georgia in 1967-68. Cudos to the folks at UWG for building a wonderful place to play and watch basketball!

I then took a trip over to Auburn to watch the Tigers play Georgia in basketball. This was my first time to visit the new Auburn Arena and it is a beautiful place also. It is somewhat similar to West Georgia’s, although it is bigger and has a second level of seating. It also houses Auburn’s athletic museum, which is a very nice amenity. The fans are on top of the floor here and should give the Tigers a real home court advantage as soon as they get a few more quality players to upgrade their team. They did beat Georgia on this Saturday afternoon however.

Now I know a good bit about old gyms. I played for a couple of years at the old gym on the R.E. Lee campus. It was built in the 1930s and it was an interesting place to play. First of all; however, let me say that I originally thought it was a palace when I arrived in 1962. You see, I had come from Atwater where we practiced and played on an outside asphalt court. Simply going indoors was a big upgrade for me!

The teams from Atlanta hated to come to the old Lee gym! Decatur, Druid Hills, Forest Park, East Atlanta and so many of them thought that they had really come to the country when they walked in the front door of our ancient facility. Maybe they were right!

The team benches were situated on the side of the floor and when a player or coach sat on the bench, their feet would be in the playing area. On the other side were the stands and the front row was about two feet from the out of bounds side line. At one end was a wall about 5-6 feet from the end line. There was a large mat hanging on the wall to protect a player if he was barreling down the floor and couldn’t stop before hitting the wall. On the other end was a section of stands only a few feet from the end line.

The floor was not flat or even and had a few humps and valleys in it that would cause the ball to bounce oddly at times. The dressing rooms were downstairs and, as far as I can recall, were heated with some kind of furnace which never worked properly. That’s tough in the wintertime. There were just caverns down there. No real structured dressing rooms and the showers were non-existent.

I can imagine how foreboding this place was for a visiting player, especially if they were accustomed to playing in a large, spacy gymnasium. You felt like you were playing in a match box! It was a home court advantage for us although we really never thought about that. What a place and you can imagine how magnificent the Holstun Gym looked and felt when it opened in February, 1964.

A few years later I became the coach at Yatesville High School and there was the old YHS gym. It was probably smaller than the the old Lee gym. The sides were similar to Lee but the wall on one end was only about one foot from the large block wall. We had a pad there but it didn’t so much good. There was not enough room between the end line and wall for a player to stand to inbound the ball.

On the other end was a little room before you either ran into the wall of ran through a door and up some steps to the main hall of the high school. This was quite a place and was surely a big home court advantage. In my first year there in 1971 we upset a very good West Point team and their coach told me that the gym was the reason for his team’s loss and that he would never return to this “cracker box.” He didn’t!

The dressing rooms at Yatesville were on the playing floor level, but man were they tiny. The home team and visiting team entered their dressing area through the same small door and the dressing rooms were next to each other, separated by a single, thin brick wall. There were lockers on the walls so there was very, very little room to move about. Small would be a compliment!

These kinds of places were great places to play! We also played in a few on the road in places like Greenville and Woodbury so we weren’t alone with these tiny gyms.

The players of today are very fortunate to have such beautiful and spacious places to play and we fans are lucky to have such comfortable places to watch the games. Boy, things have come a long way from the old gyms to the new arenas!